Gold College Fosters Dialogue, Collaborative Problem Solving, and Community Building
By Victor Shewchuk (University of Alberta Senior Advisor for Organizational Learning and Effectiveness) and Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons (President, CCS Consulting Inc.)
Gold College, a leadership program at the University of Alberta, was launched in 2011 as a means of helping empower academic staff at the school. Unique for its length and breadth, the Gold College program is transforming the university by providing academics with the tools they need to navigate the reality of budget cuts, decreased staffing, and demographic and technological change. In this fourth and final piece, we examine how the program uses open-ended, creative dialogue among its students, promoting collective problem solving and a sense of community.
Gold College does not impose strict structure on its workshops. If participants want to explore a topic at length during sessions, they’re free to do so in dialogues with each other. Open-ended, creative explorations occur frequently. “Gold College connects to its students,” says Victor Shewchuck, University of Alberta Senior Advisor for Organizational Learning and Effectiveness and a co-author of this article. “The dialogue that ensues reflects that context.”
Shewchuck elaborates: “We teachers regularly turn classroom dialogue over to the learners. We create a safe space for them to have intense emotional reactions to the ideas we present. They talk about problems they’re facing, reflect on better ways of doing things, and solve problems together. They share values. They shift values. They bond and create a community. They step back from the day-to-day pressures they face, take a look at what their jobs are really all about, and explore their dreams in terms of vocational satisfaction and happiness. They figure things out—they’re academics, many of them; figuring things out is what they do.”
"Gold College is not just some course you take where the only thing you’ve got at the end is another piece of paper hung on the wall."
Gold College members meet frequently outside of regular sessions and often keep in touch after instruction is completed in the spring, Shewchuk says, adding: “Our graduates have spread out through the institution. They propel change in a lot of departments. They’re having a positive impact on the University of Alberta. Many of our students move beyond the workshops toward working with a strategic vision, on behalf of their departments and units, to transform them from the inside. Gold College is not just some course you take where the only thing you’ve got at the end is another piece of paper hung on the wall.”
Gold College graduation in June is festive. Participants invite their families, tell stories, share what they’ve learned, and even have been known to sing original songs about Gold College accompanied by ukulele.
At one graduation, the dean of the medical school came up to Shewchuk and gestured in the direction of the newly minted leadership experts, who were busily building community.
“What did you do to my faculty?” the dean asked.
“What do you mean?”
“Look at them. They’re different.”
To which Shewchuk replied, “That is the whole point.”
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Resources for all those called to leadership who understand the power of words and stories to shape their futures from one of the nation’s preeminent narrative coaches, Christine Cavanaugh-Simmons of CCS Consulting Inc.